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Wednesday April 24, 2013, at 3:40 pm

What’s In a Name

As I near the end of a project there is always one issue that becomes of major importance. That is the title, and every time I think through the titles and naming conventions of so many things that I enjoy trying to come up with a perfect answer, and in general I come down to my favorite solution for this problem, which is letting someone else come up with the name.enders-game

The reason it is important is because it is one of, if not, the first thing anyone is going to know about a book, comic book or anything else that you might come up with. This means you need to encapsulate as much of the theme or ideas of the book into a couple words as possible. For someone who hates the ideas of plot summaries and detests writing the back cover blurb this is a problem. Still it has to be done.

One of my favorite book titles just happens to be connected to a book I love, Ender’s Game. Think through the title and you can find a number of interesting things going on. The entire book is of course about the Battle School and the game that they play, but there is also the odd video game that Ender plays as well as the final simulation at the end of the book which is also a game, and finally you have the gaming the system possibility of the word as well. In addition it manages to get the name of the main character into the title. This title isn’t responsible for the success of this book, but it certainly didn’t hurt.

Using the theme of a book is also another way to title and one that can be great when done well. Pride and Prejudice is a good example of a title that examines the themes examined in the book as well as giving you an idea of what you’re likely to find. Of course if you didn’t know anything else about the book you probably wouldn’t assume it was a romance, but the title is still great. Other similar titles that jump to mind are The Grapes of Wrath and A Tale of Two Cities, but, of course, most titles at least touch on the idea of the theme of the book.

I also like an enigmatic title or one that leads to interesting questions. That is a title that makes a person think about it both before and after you read the book and leads to questions. Pride and Prejudice can do this a bit, but after the question of who is Pride and who is Prejudice you generally have an answer. A better example from a book I have a bit more personal experience with is The Two Towers. There are a number of towers in the book, and, as I understand it, Tolken didn’t even know exactly which towers he was referring to. He decided on Orthanc and Minus Morgul, but there are others and it leads to the simple question of which towers are most important. It also sounds good. Another name I like that sort of fits this idea is Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? And the real point of this question isn’t about the dreaming habits of machines, but about their humanity or lack thereof.  It’s also a far more interesting name than Blade Runner, but that’s just my opinion.

Of course you rarely go wrong by simply telling people what is going to happen in your story. One simple example of this are the Star Wars movie titles. You can be reasonably certain by the title that there is going to be a war, likely in space and in this particular episode it is likely that the Jedi are going to return or perhaps the Empire will strike back. This works especially well in some types of stories, but can be almost impossible for others. Try to come up with a title for Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? that describes what happens and at best you’re going to come up with a far less interesting title.

You can also use a main character or object in your book as the title.  There are a number of these, but going back to my favorites I think of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. You do get some feel for the book from the title, but it’s not really describing the themes and you know what it means as the wholly remarkable book is in many ways a main character.  Dr. Strangelove is another interesting title because in many ways the title character isn’t the main character. He’s important of course and memorable, but he doesn’t drive all that much of the story.  It is also interesting because it is one of the only stories I can come up with that has an alternate title in the title of the story itself.

Of course you can’t discuss titles without looking at, at least, one title I don’t care for. In this case it’s a Piers Anthony book in a series I actually enjoy. The book is Isle of View. It is a stupid pun which reminds the reader of the direction (negative in my opinion) that the Xanth series was going. It can also be a bit embarrassing to say so you’re less likely to suggest it. The real point though is that a title needs to be easy to say, clear and not embarrass the reader, beyond all the good things that it needs to do. Of course one could argue that the title Isle of View is memorable and so successful as I remember that name years after I forget the specifics of what is in the book.

So the real question of all of this is ‘What do I name the book I am writing?’. It is the second book in the Middlemen Series but that doesn’t help because the only real naming convention I created was Middlemen: Subtitle. But I have finally come up with the title I think I’m going with. Middlemen: Alone.  Although I still like Middlemen: Standing Alone and I did play with the idea of Of Mice and Demigods. I’d also like to touch on the magic which is a major part of the story and may adjust the title to something to do with that. So, perhaps I have a bit of work left to do.

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